Back when I wrote The Waterlord, it was in three parts--and Part 1, the part I ultimately discarded, was Tom's childhood on the ship and how he got his powers. The writing wasn't up to snuff and it didn't fit the book, but I still liked the story. Tom and Nathan are in it, and it introduces the world they live in very effectively. I figured it would be fun to share as a Wednesday Briefs for a while. I hope others agree!
Water: Part 1
“Are you paying attention?!” The ruler snapped down on Tom's desk, who had been staring at the map on the wall. The boy jumped at the sound, and looked up into the face of the irate navigator.
“If you ever want to be more than a ship hoveler, you will pay attention!” The navigator shook the ruler once more before turning back to the board, where she had drawn numerous star charts. The class copied them down, all aware that the Ship Lord required them to know at least rudimentary navigation. Compasses were rare and expensive, owned only by the lords themselves, so the ship dwellers had to make do.
Tom turned to the board, trying to make sense of it. The stars and constellations drawn with kelp powder seemed to swim in his vision, and he frowned. He didn’t want to be a navigator, so why did he have to study this? The maps of islands, real land, were what intrigued him. Most of the children in the classroom with him now had been born on the ship, but not him. When he was four, the captain had brought him here onto the ship. Before that, he imagined he had lived on one of the Ship Lord’s islands, maybe a son of a minor Lord. One day, his parents would come back for him, he hoped, and he would have his own ship to control…
The ruler hit him squarely between his shoulder blades, and he yelped aloud. “I see threats aren’t enough for you, wave dreamer!” The navigator scowled at him as she wrenched him out of his chair. “Now you will stand in front of the class as I work!”
Grabbing him by the ear, she marched him up to the board, and placed him to the side. “Now stay there, and if you drift off again, I’ll throw you off the ship!”
A day did not go by when the navigator did not threaten to throw one of them off the ship. In reality, though, no one could be thrown off without being judged by a Ship Lord himself, and rarely did a child do something heinous enough to warrant the ultimate punishment. Tom had been put up in front of the class enough times to know that by now.
“There are several constellations that can be used for navigation, but single stars can be used as well. The most important of these is the rust star…”
Tom did not care about the rust star, or any other star, for that matter. The head navigator on the ship had a device that he claimed he could use to see stars with in detail, but Tom had never bothered to try it. He was far more interested in the world they actually lived on. He remembered little of living on land; his memories were filled with days at sea, nothing in any direction but water, the only sound the whistling of wind that he liked to imagine was conjured by the air mages and the cries of albatross. When the ship passed close to one of the islands of the Ship Lords, however, Tom was first on deck, hoping to catch a glimpse of trees in the distance. The only ones invited to the islands were mages and captains, however, and Tom was neither of those. He had not set foot on land for nine years, and couldn’t remember what it was like.
That would change, he assured himself. If he was discovered to be a mage, then he would get off the ship, and go to an island to be trained. Earth mages were always prized; if you were an earth mage you almost never stayed on a ship. Air mages almost always became co captains, powering the ships for the Ship Lords. And fire mages…That is what Tom wanted to be, a fire mage. They were rare, rarer even then earth mages, but they absolutely could not stay on a ship. Their element would not agree with it, obviously. It was said that fire mages usually went on to become Ship Lords of their own, and that was what Tom wanted more than anything.
Mages themselves were rare, though, and the tests for a given ability were never clear. Tom wasn’t sure how they were done, but he felt sure that he would be one. He felt determined to get off the ship, and if that meant developing magic power, he could do that. He had tried manipulating fire before, with no success, but didn’t magic abilities come later in life? He was sure he would be able to do it eventually.
“Isn’t that right, Tom?” The navigator was speaking to him about something, and he jerked his head up to meet her gaze. He had no clue what she had just asked, so he simply nodded.
The class burst into laughter, and the teacher sighed. “No, Tom, stars are not made of coral. I knew you weren’t paying attention. What am I going to do with you?”
The lunch bell rang then, clanging down even to the bowels of the ship where children were instructed. The children ran out of the room, laughing happily, and Tom followed, darting around the navigator. Had he learned anything, it was forgotten in the rush to get their lunch.